Art by Sam Haney
Story By Daniel Anderson
The nation of Sweden is quite well versed in metal.
From Meshuggah to Opeth, Entombed to Amon Amarth, Bathory to Ghost, metal music has thrived in this country for decades. However mainstream or underground the names may be, the genre has remained popular nonetheless.Yet throughout this country’s layered history in the genre, few Swedish metal bands have ever been as revered as the doom-laden Candlemass.
Forming in 1984 in Stockholm by bassist and sole consistent member Leif Edling, Candlemass embarked on a distinct metal movement during the mid to late 80s, doom metal. It typically is not a very extreme form of the metal genre (some might even call it simplistic), but extremity is not what it needs to focus on. This genre is familiarized by its slow tempo, titanic riffs, and thunderous volume. In doing so, the overall sound produced gives off an ominous presence: one that gives the listener a sense of impending doom (hence the name).
Around the time of the band’s hay day, the genre of doom metal was viewed by many as a bastion of a sound that had been existent since the 70s (thanks to Black Sabbath, of course). Contemporaries such as Trouble, Saint Vitus and Pentagram had jumped onto the bandwagon of Sabbath worship.
Candlemass, however, changed that notion with albums like Epicus Doomicus Metallicus and Nightfall. Instead of the familiar stoner riffs of the decade prior, the band opted for grand production and a dramatic new sound for the genre— vocals and all. They had essentially turned doom metal into opera.
From then on, Candlemass kept turning the wheel for their newly updated genre (which they dubbed “epic doom metal”). Though this did not come without its faults. The band has consistently picked up and dropped its members like jacks, and hiatuses were certainly not unheard of.
Despite all of that, Candlemass persisted. Time and time again, the band kept releasing albums which mostly garnered warm reception from critics and fans. But after their 2012 release Psalms for the Dead, Candlemass fell silent with their streak of albums.
There was no complete studio silence, though. In that time, they released two EPs, Death Thy Lover and House of Doom. However, with their fifth vocalist, Mats Levén, they lacked the truly operatic voice which had helped give the band its identity.
Once he was outed, the band once again needed someone to take the mantle of vocals. Much to the surprise of their fans, the original vocalist for the band, Johan Länqvist, decided to take on that role once again.
Thus, we now have Candlemass’ twelfth studio album, The Door to Doom. And what an excellent return to form it is.
With so many lineup changes in their discography, one might expect a band such as Candlemass to act dysfunctional, especially considering how long they have been doing this sort of thing.
Yet that is not what is on display here. Straight from the opening track, “Splendor Demon Majesty,” it becomes clear that Candlemass can still offer the devilish and melodic guitar lines, crushing production, and ominous vibes that made them beloved in the first place.
Längqvist’s vocals, while obviously aged, have fared much greater than most other long-running bands. Take the new recording of the track, “House of Doom,” for instance. While the excellent instrumentals have not changed much since last time, the more operatic tone that the vocals on the new version bring forth make the comparison between this and the original version seem like day and night. With one simple change, this band become instantly more recognizable.
The third track, “Astorolus – The Great Octopus” is perhaps the most outstanding example of fresh offerings on this album. While not as occult as many of the other songs in their discography, the Lovecraftian lyrics of an oceanic monstrosity certainly fill in the gap of ever-present evil just perfectly.
But most notable of all, this track features a winding guest guitar solo from the legendary Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi. Just knowing that this band has garnered the attention and collaboration of one of heavy metal’s most essential forefathers goes to show how far Candlemass has come since its inception.
However, straightforward doom and gloom is not all that is brought to the table here. There are several moments throughout this album which show that the band also has versatility under its belt. Instances such as the intro to the track, “Under the Ocean,” which has a psychedelic vibe comparable to that of Led Zeppelin’s “No Quarter.”
That same vibe takes complete control on the fourth track, “Bridge of the Blind.” This track is a nice change of pace, basically acting as an acoustic interlude.
The track “Black Trinity” contains the moment most atypical of this band, however. It starts out with some of the heaviest and most distorted guitar licks on the album, almost like an Electric Wizard track. But then there is an eerie drum break starting around the four-minute mark, including what sounds like a pair of maracas in the background. Needless to say, this moment sticks out like a sore thumb, but in an interesting way.
One more important thing to note about this album is the mixing. Make no mistake, this album is as heavy and hard-hitting as any frequent metal listener would expect. The sheer emphasis on the drums and guitar distortion help this album sound even more monstrous than it already was. It is not exactly as heavy as something like, say, a High on Fire record, but it more than gets the job done.
In essence, The Door to Doom is the album that long time listeners of Candlemass have been craving for years now. It blends the new and the old of the band into a seamless recording. Plus, given that a good majority of the tracks abide by doom metal standards, it also makes for a good album to engage new listeners with.
One thing this album is not, however, is a sequel to their debut, Epicus Doomicus Metallicus (despite what some fans claim). Then again, it does not need to be. By now, this band has gone through so many different phases and lineups that making something entirely reminiscent of their earliest works would be futile. Candlemass has remained a surprisingly consistent band when it comes to sound and style, but the subtle changes they have made along the way have kept this band from reaching their permanent expiration date.
Late-career highlights are certainly not unheard of for metal bands, but only a band like Accept can match the consistency that Candlemass has had past their prime. For a band that has been around for 35 years, and with fairly little change to the sound of their repertoire, it is quite amazing that Candlemass can still bring about great albums in this great of a volume.
The Door to Doom is the newest evidence of this claim.
Standout Tracks: Under the Ocean, Astorolus – The Great Octopus, Black Trinity, House of Doom